Oscar Williams
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Oscar Williams

News editor

Digital minister Margot James: “I know our Brexit deal has its critics in the tech community, but it’s the best option we have”

The digital minister, Margot James, has sought to convince senior figures in the tech sector that the government’s Brexit deal represents the best option for the UK.

Speaking at TechUK’s annual digital ethics conference this morning, James acknowledged that the deal had faced criticism from members of the tech community.

But she added that while she regretted the vote to leave, she had come to terms with the referendum result and that the drawbacks of the deal had been overstated.

“I know it’s got its critics in this room, but I do feel that it is the best possible deal we could get and that the downsides have been exaggerated,” she told the conference.

TechUK, the industry’s trade body, came out in support of the deal last month, saying it was the “only solution on the table that can deliver on the outcome of the 2016 referendum whilst also securing jobs and investment in UK tech”.

But Julian David, TechUK’s CEO, was forced to defend the decision just a day later after hundreds of members of the tech community signed a letter calling for a People’s Vote.

“It is our view that the government’s ‘Withdrawal Agreement and Political Agreement on leaving the European Union’ will not serve the best interests of the UK tech industry,” the letter stated. “It will vastly increase friction in trade with the EU and impose significant and costly changes for the tech industry.”

In response, David wrote: “We have been very clear that No Deal is a potential catastrophe for member businesses and resolving uncertainty is paramount given that there are only 130 or so days to go. Therefore, in consultation with our members we made a very clear decision to support the proposed withdrawal agreement which can resolve the uncertainty and avoids the risk of a no deal disaster.”

Speaking this morning, James thanked the trade body for “its public support for the deal”. Opening her keynote speech, the minister said she had a busy day ahead, and said she would “support my prime minister against a minority of my colleagues who, in my view, have taken a very irresponsibile action”.

Earlier this week, Theresa May postponed a parliamentary vote on the proposed withdrawal agreement, acknowledging it was destined to be rejected by MPs. She faces a vote of confidence in her leadership this evening (12 December).